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Finding connections between the practice of Karate and the doctoral journal

A couple years ago I decided to enrol in Karate class to support my daughter’s (12) interest in building her fitness levels and the opportunity for us to enjoy a new experience together (see Image 1 below). I was happy to join as it would also fulfill a childhood dream of mine to train in the martial arts. This decision happened almost simultaneously with acceptance into the Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) program, and I imagined that Karate might help to strike a good balance between work, study, and parenting. One day, I read that achieving black belt in Karate would take about 3 to 5 years with regular and dedicated training. When I heard this, I was struck by the coincidence that PhD studies would also take roughly 3 to 5 years as a full-time commitment. Of course, for both situations, this is not always the case. However, this idea planted a seed for what was to become a concept-turned-book chapter that illustrated the overlapping likenesses between Karate and doctoral (PhD) studies.

Through writing and reflecting on my life as an academic, I began to recognise the impact that the COVID-19 pandemic was having on my life, especially as I lived in Melbourne where strict and lengthy lockdowns were plentiful. For me, and no doubt for many others, the pandemic could be described as a “dark time”, and it led to me abandoning my job in higher education and moving into doctoral studies. As I recounted the challenges of online learning and remote schooling, I grew more and more aware about the significance of leaving my job and the value of Karate training during that period of my life. In many ways, Karate acted as my “salvation”, in other words, Karate helped me to cope with those tough times.

The story begins shortly before I enrolled in karate and doctoral studies, when I was a lecturer working in higher education. My role was training pre-service teachers interested in becoming early years or primary school educators. I was also developing some of the subjects within the teaching program. However, three years into this job, the COVID-19 pandemic struck Melbourne and led to a series of changed events that altered the working patterns of my life. For instance, I was forced to work from home and my classes moved to “online delivery”. I juggled this work with remote schooling for my own children, which I found very hard. This situation lasted for many months and led to a deterioration in my mental health as well as the mental health of my students and my children, as we all struggled to adapt to these new ways of working, schooling, and living. I decided that I should leave my job, which had changed into an unfamiliar and depressing type of work, to try something fresh. So, I enrolled in PhD studies (full time) and started a new life, while still keeping connected to the world of academia. Not long afterwards, I joined the local Dojo (a Dojo is the learning space) for Karate training.

Image 1 A photograph (2021) of me with my daughter at the local Dojo.

I really enjoyed going to the Dojo and was surprised by the joy I experienced in learning new skills, such as Karate choreography (Kata) and sparring or fighting (Kumite). Classes were in the evenings, and I would usually attend for a double class about four times a week because they were so interesting and different. The time passed quickly because my brain was so tied up in learning the new movements and dance sequences. To learn the Karate names of the movements and other important information, I kept a journal that had, for example, records of the belt order, numbers 1-10 in Japanese, and hand-drawn pictures of the sequence of choreography for each Kata.

Over time, I began to connect the aspects of Karate with doctoral studies and mapped these out in a different journal. This process helped me to notice things about myself, for example my own energy levels, the way my body moved, and my breath. Soon, I started to understand that if I was busy writing during the day for my studies, then my body was slow to move at night in Karate class. In another example, I also discovered the same feelings of anxiousness that would surface for a PhD supervision meeting would also arise when I had an upcoming Karate tournament. So, I noticed that my experiences in Karate reflected parts of “self” and that my “self” was also reflected in my Karate experience.

So, by doing both Karate and doctoral studies together, I understood myself better, especially as I was paying attention to it. Through writing and drawing lot of notes and images, I have learned that I do experience a lot of self-doubt. Yet, I also know that I am very good at coping with such feelings because I reflect on them, which prompts me to change how I respond. This self-awareness includes recognising that I perform better when routines are established but that my energy levels are constantly changing, so I need to learn and adapt to these rhythms. Through these experiences, I have been able to see myself in new ways. So, I am beginning to see what I can do in my life that will bring out my best self, especially for work in academia.

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